Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that it has appointed a special envoy in a renewed effort to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. Paul M. Lewis, a former Judge Advocate General in the Marine Corps and current Democratic lawyer for the House Armed Services Committee, will take over the position on November 1. He will be working alongside fellow Capitol Hill attorney Clifford Sloan, who was appointed in June as the State Department’s envoy for Guantanamo.
This will not be the first time Lewis has dealt with Guantanamo Bay. He previously worked on Guantanamo issues during his time with the HASC, which is most likely why he was personally approved for the position by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Our own Paul Taylor and Professor Mark Denbeaux had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Lewis to discuss detainee recidivism and other issues pertaining to Guantanamo Bay prior to his appointment. He will now focus exclusively on transferring prisoners who have been cleared for release or transfer, and ultimately closing Guantanamo Bay. Pentagon spokesman and Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said that the appointment reflects “the Department’s commitment to implementing the President’s directive to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.”
The appointment came just hours after 16 NGOs and legal groups wrote to President Obama to voice concerns about the lack of progress on closing Guantanamo Bay. The letter specifically called attention to the vacancy in the position that Lewis will be taking over. Those concerns are well warranted as President Obama is running out of time to follow through on his promise to close the detention facility. It is still unclear if Lewis will be able to accomplish his goal of closing Guantanamo Bay considering efforts to transfer prisoners have stalled for years. As of now, 84 of the 164 detainees have been cleared for release and 17 are still on hunger strike.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research